Frustrated by a traffic stop, you let the officer know exactly how you felt. Or maybe you took your frustration out on a judge who ruled against you. Either way, you are now charged with threatening a public official.

Can you be convicted? The answer depends on what you said and the context in which you said it.

In Illinois, you can be charged with threatening a public official or human service provider when you knowingly communicate a threat that would place the official or their immediate family in reasonable fear of bodily harm, sexual assault, confinement, restraint or damage to property. The threat may be communicated in any way. Further, the threat must be related to the official’s status or performance of their job.

For the state to convict, your statement must be a “true threat.” True threats are those where you intended to threaten violence, but not necessarily where you intended to act on the threat. To determine your intent, the court looks at the totality of the circumstances.

Threats to police, social workers, caseworkers, investigators or human service providers must contain specific facts indicating a unique threat to their person, family or property and not a generalized threat of harm.

One Illinois court held that the language “I’m gonna get you,” was not a true threat because the state did not show the context in which the threat was made. Illinois courts have also held that a defendant’s yelling at a prosecutor to “come back and say that to my face” and a defendant’s threat to a judge that he’ll “be hearing from someone” were also not true threats.

Threatening an official is a Class 3 felony, punishable by 2 to 5 years in prison, for a first offense and a Class 2 felony, punishable by 3 to 7 years in prison for later offenses.

If you have been charged with a threatening an official or other crime, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An attorney can review your case for its best possible defense. What exactly did you say? Can the state prove your intent? Even if the evidence against you is overwhelming, an attorney who is respected in the courthouse may be able to negotiate a more favorable plea agreement than you could on your own.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

See 720 ILCS 5/12-9(a) and People v. Smith.

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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